The Cranberry Eagle
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Article published March 6, 2013

Health care changes worry state insurance chief

Jared Stonesifer
Cranberry Eagle

CRANBERRY TWP — The commissioner of the Pennsylvania Insurance Department is not sure how the Affordable Care Act will affect businesses, but said it will bring radical shifts to the health care industry when it’s implemented in nine months.

Michael Consedine, who also is secretary of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, spoke Friday morning to more than 100 business leaders at a forum sponsored by THE CHAMBER of Commerce at the Hilton Garden Inn.
His talk is the first in a quarterly series aimed at how the Affordable Care Act, commonly called ObamaCare, will affect individuals and businesses.
Consedine’s message to the assembled group was quick and to the point: The federal government hasn’t been forthcoming in the details surrounding how the Affordable Care Act will bring about changes on the state level.
“We’re not getting the level of engagement we hoped we’d get,” he said. “It makes me very nervous to be in a situation in nine months where the rules of the road aren’t clear.”
The commissioner said that’s especially unsettling given the fact that the only certainty right now about the law is that it’s going to drastically change the way Pennsylvanians buy health care.
“This law represents a fundamentally different way of purchasing health care, an entirely new dynamic and mechanism to purchase health care,” he said.
That fundamental shift will occur in the form of federal exchanges, or new health care markets, established in the state that are run by the federal government.
Those exchanges will come online in nine months even though state officials aren’t sure just how they will operate.
State officials were given the option to create and run a state-operated exchange system, and instead defaulted to the federal government to do that.
Gov. Tom Corbett decided against a state-run exchange system, Consedine said, because it could have cost $30 million to $100 million to implement.
Now that state officials have ceded that control to the federal government, Consedine said he is worried about the Affordable Care Act being not so affordable.
“This will make health care more accessible,” he said. “But access to health care is secondary to the affordability of health care.”
The commissioner added that some businesses could experience “rate shock,” where premiums could climb by more than 60 percent.
However, Consedine cautioned that those estimates are purely guesswork, given the murky nature of the details surrounding the federal government’s plan for the exchange.
“We’re really moving into unknown territory here,” he said.
The only information he does know is that all nine of the major health care companies in Pennsylvania “very likely” will participate in the exchange, while he added that no business or individual will be forced to buy insurance from the new exchange.
While many of the business leaders in attendance appreciated the frank discussion, several said they are leaving with more questions than answers.
Janet Breiding came on behalf of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit and said she’s been to at least half a dozen similar seminars about the Affordable Care Act.
She’ll continue hopping from one event to the next until clear answers are revealed to these rather complex problems.
“It’s scary,” she said. “There is so much information out there and people just don’t know. There is nothing definitive yet.”
John Gross of Business Records Management in Pittsburgh echoes those sentiments, and said he’s worried about the prospect of employers being forced to lay off workers to save costs.
“I’m just not sure of a lot of the things the government plans on doing,” he said. “I’m really worried about employees getting dumped.”